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Category Archives: Business

6 Clever Ways to Use Social Media

Stroll through StumbleUpon

Do you think of StumbleUpon as merely an entertaining way to explore the Internet? Think again. The social media site, which allows users to “stumble” across recommended websites by clicking an icon in their browser, can be a powerful source of inspiration for wannabe entrepreneurs.

“StumbleUpon is a great way for budding entrepreneurs to get inspired by content they wouldn’t have found through traditional channels,” said StumbleUpon CEO Mark Bartels. For inspiration, aspiring entrepreneurs should take a look at a select group of followers, Bartels recommended. “Follow well-regarded curators, like Mashable, Branding Magazine, Garrett Camp or J.T. O’Donnell,” he said. “They’ve each assembled unique collections of thought-provoking articles, business tips and beyond to inform and inspire business ideas.”

If the business content on StumbleUpon doesn’t trigger a new idea, it’s time to move out of your comfort zone and get creative. “Sometimes, the best ideas come from exploring beyond your usual websites and sources,” Bartels said. “Picking a topic like space, architecture or design will recommend pages that offer you a different perspective.”

Surf the subreddits

If you’re on the prowl for a new tech-related product or service idea, head over to news and entertainment social media site Reddit, and start surfing the subreddits, or subject areas.

“I would recommend technology companies leverage Reddit,” said Sahana Jayaraman, vice president of digital and social practice at technology PR firm Eastwick. Reddit users submit content that other users can vote up or down, influencing the content’s placement on the front page of the site.

Jayaraman said Reddit is a good source of new business ideas. In particular, people looking for new business ideas should review subreddits and use the Ask Me Anything feature, where users can ask experts and celebrities questions that may uncover potential ideas for small or midsize businesses (SMBs).

“Reddit is a hotbed for SMBs to learn about what their customers want and need,” he said. “It can benefit from an R&D perspective or from a marketing perspective.”

Pay attention to Pinterest

If your talents lie in identifying or creating the next great must-have product, get a Pinterest account. The image-based social media site provides a constant stream of new images to get you thinking creatively about new business ideas.

“Of all the social media sites, Pinterest is one of the best to see the next hot product trend,” said Gail Oliver, a small business consultant and blogger at Attention-Getting.com. “Pinterest is the only social media [site] that has a Popular page where you can see the images that people like the most,” she said.

Oliver said she’s seen many wedding, home decor and fashion trends take off because of Pinterest. “It also clearly shows you how many people like the image and how many repin — both great indicators of their popularity,” she said.

Pinterest users can monitor comments without alerting other users, to get a site-wide look at what people think of each pin. Oliver said the sometimes-overlooked comments section provides more inspiration for new ideas than some other social media sites.

“Comments are also visible to everyone, so you can see what people are saying,” Oliver said. “Facebook posts no longer go out to everyone who follows you, so you get a limited response, and it would just be a portion of your followers.”

Search Twitter questions

If you’re just following trending tweets or hashtags on Twitter in an effort to find business ideas, it’s time to change your approach.

“Find questions people are asking on Twitter,” said Jay Neely, creator of Boston Startups Guide. “Twitter search is an amazing tool for startup idea research.”

Neely said Facebook’s advertising tools are also a great way to research and evaluate markets for business ideas.

“Facebook’s ad creator allows for some amazing interest, demographic and location targeting,” he said. “I’ve used it to measure if an interest is more popular among iPhone or Android users, get a sense of a profession’s demographic breakdown and see how large the target market is within the area I’m based,” Neely said.

Uncover under-the-radar social media networks and apps

For another largely untapped social media source of idea-rich content, use your cellphone to cruise through one of the lesser-known mobile social networks, or visit a social shopping network.

“Mobile social networks are highly engaged, and great for feedback,” Neely said. “If you post a question on a LinkedIn group, you’re lucky to get any responses. But on mobile social networks, push notifications and better social context result in much higher engagement.”

If apps aren’t your thing, try a visit to a couple of niche social sites for inspiration.

“I think social sharing sites like Wanelo [an online world shopping community] and Lover.ly [dedicated to shopping for weddings] are better for identifying business opportunities,” Oliver said, because they gauge people’s interest and approval with the whole “like” system, instead of just measuring the reaction of your followers.

Spy on your competitors

A truly stealthy way to find new business ideas is to quietly monitor the social media activity of the big players and/or competitors in the industries in which you’re interested.

“The trick to using social media to find new ideas and stay on top of the current trends is to monitor your competitors,” said Matthew Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com. When you see the totality of engagement from your market competitors, you get a better sense of an overall pattern that allows you to connect the dots to discover new ideas, Reischer said.

Tips to Start a Pet Care Business

For entrepreneurial pet lovers, there’s almost no question as to what type of business they would want to start. Becoming a trainer, groomer or sitter is likely a dream job for those who want to spend their days working with and caring for dogs and cats. But, as any pet care professional can attest, being a part of this industry is no easy task.

“Pets are often regarded as family members, and the responsibility of caring for those pets is not one that should be taken lightly,” said Daryl Conner, manager of Yankee Clipper Pet Grooming and certified petcare dermatech specialist. “[Pet care professionals] don’t just play with puppies all day. We work with living creatures who can often behave unpredictably.”

Starting a pet care business is certainly an achievable goal, but you won’t succeed without a strong knowledge of both animal behavior and business basics. Before you start writing up that business plan, here’s what you need in order to work in the industry.

Regardless of what type of pet care business you want to start, a basic education in animal care and handling is the first step to working with animals. While you don’t necessarily need a degree in animal science, reading books, taking courses and attending industry events are essential to expanding your knowledge of animal anatomy and behavior. Groomers and trainers are responsible for more than simply washing and cutting fur and teaching tricks: They are often the first to spot issues like fleas and ticks, which they will need to know how to deal with.

Consider getting certified by a reputable industry organization with rigorous testing and training requirements, such as the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors or the National Dog Groomers Association of America. This will not only give you a good educational background, but also build up customer trust when you do start your own business. However, a good pet care professional knows that his or her education is never complete.

“Always continue your education,” said Mandy Massara, founder of All Aspects Animal Care. “Keep refining your craft. We don’t know everything, but we want to.”

While books and classes are a good start, a theory-based education can only get you so far. Firsthand experience handling animals is critical to starting and running a successful pet care business. Most groomers and trainers started out as apprentices under more experienced professionals before branching out and starting their own practices.

“A lot of pet owners don’t know what goes on behind the scenes,” said Teri DiMarino, president of the California Professional Pet Groomers Association. “[For groomers,] getting the cut right is one thing, but handling the pet is another issue entirely. What happens if a dog gets in a fight, or needs first aid? You have to be prepared.”

Linda Kaim, founder of Lionheart K9 Dog Training, said that many industry certification programs don’t include hands-on training to work directly with animals, and that knowledge-based tests are an insufficient assessment of how a trainer or groomer will perform when dealing with pets.

Similarly, Sandy Blackburn, author of The Everything Dog Grooming Book and owner of The Groom Room Pet Spa, noted that online courses are okay for refining skills once you have experience under your belt, but as a novice, this route is not recommended.

Because animal behavior can be unpredictable, protecting both yourself and your customers through proper licensing and insurance coverage is a must. Massara recommended doing thorough research into local ordinances and taking the proper steps to comply with them.

“Consumers should be wary of unlicensed businesses,” she told Business News Daily. “They have no recourse if something goes wrong.”

In the pet care industry, one must remember that professionals work with both pets and people. While the bulk of a trainer, groomer or sitter’s day-to-day activities involves the care and handling of animals, it’s the owners who ultimately drive your business. George Quinlan, NADOI member and founder of All About Dogs Behavior and Training Center, said that liking people and being able to communicate with them is just as important as loving animals.

“Without good communication skills, you’ll lose half of your clients,” he said.

A true love of animals and experience working with them only make up one half of the equation for an independent pet care business. The other side, of course, is knowing how to run a business.

“Having a good grasp of basic business principles is a must,” Conner told Business News Daily. “Many groomers [and other pet care professionals] do not understand how to figure out the cost of running a business, and because of that, they have no idea how to structure their pricing. They end up setting their prices to be comparable to other professionals in the area, with no way to compare overhead, and do not charge what their service is worth.”

Tips to Start a Restaurant

For those with a passion for food, opening a restaurant is the ultimate entrepreneurial dream. Perhaps you’ve already envisioned it: You start off in a tiny space with a couple of tables and a small kitchen. Before you know it, your eatery has become a beloved local dining establishment with a line out the door every weekend.

Running a restaurant is certainly rewarding, but it’s no easy task. Like any startup venture, restaurant ownership takes a lot of hard work, unwavering dedication and a willingness to overcome the obstacles you’re sure to come up against along the way. Six industry veterans shared their tips for navigating the business and launching a successful restaurant.

In any industry, doing your due diligence before starting up is critical for success. This is especially true for the restaurant business, where simply knowing good food isn’t enough. Even if you have worked in a restaurant, there are still many legal, managerial and marketing lessons to be learned.

One area that many would-be restaurateurs overlook is local licensing and health-department regulations. Michele Stumpe, a Georgia-based attorney specializing in alcohol licensing and hospitality litigation, stressed the importance of knowing the legal policies in your restaurant’s location, especially since state (and even county) laws can vary. Aspiring restaurateurs planning a launch should factor in the time various permitting and inspection processes will take, Stumpe advised. Costanzo Astarita ran into this issue when opening his Atlanta restaurant Baraonda in December 2000.

“The first couple of months were hard,” Astarita said. “We didn’t have a liquor license, and opening when everyone was busy for the holidays proved very challenging. We scraped through until Valentine’s Day, when we received our license and got a review published in the local paper. We had a great weekend, and the restaurant finally took off.”

You might have an incredible concept, a well-trained staff and the best menu, but without a good location, your restaurant is doomed to fail. In the 30 years she’s been in business, Paola Bottero moved her Manhattan eatery three times before settling on her current location. Marco Pipolo, owner and executive chef of Marcony Ristorante in New York City has learned valuable lessons from each of the five restaurants he’s owned, but one of the most important is that location can make or break your business.

Daniel Shemtob, owner of Los Angeles-based TLT Food, got his start in the industry with his mobile restaurant called The Lime Truck. While lower inventory costs and the ability to move around mean a much lower risk when starting a food truck, location can still present an issue.

“On our first day, [my co-founder and I] were in the middle of nowhere — we didn’t have propane to cook, and the truck wouldn’t start,” said Shemtob, who recalled having to hotwire the truck and wait for someone to come help them. “Then, there are other factors, like traffic,” he added.

Getting your bearings in the restaurant industry as a first-timer can be difficult. If you don’t have any previous experience in the business yourself, it’s important to partner with or hire someone who does.

When Astarita started his restaurant, he and his partner had worked on both the food preparation and management sides of the industry, but he didn’t know much about commercial leases.

“I wish I had understood how to negotiate them when I started,” he said. “I think that any new restaurateur who is unfamiliar with commercial leases should hire a lawyer who specializes in that field.”

Tony Doyle, owner of HK Hospitality Group, has worked in restaurants since age 12 and has opened several successful restaurants, but he still had a lot to learn when he opened his first establishment.

“There were a lot of things I’d never dealt with before — employees, payroll, taxes, bank-account management, etc.,” Doyle said. “You need to get a general knowledge of the working of the business before you start. There are a lot of issues that people don’t see.”

While being consistent in food quality and service is important for success, the restaurant business is far from static.

“I have found over the years that you constantly need to be updating, renovating and evolving with the ever-changing taste of the public to be successful,” Pipolo said.

Shemtob agreed, noting that his menu is constantly changing to allow for newer, more innovative dishes. When you come up with your concept and menu, it should be flexible enough to adapt when your customers ask for something new.

According to a recent Ohio State University study, more than half of all restaurants fail within the first three years. If your venture does fail, assess what went wrong and try again, keeping those things in mind. When Highlands Restaurant Group co-owner Donal Brophy and his business partners founded their most recent restaurant, Whitehall Bar + Kitchen (New York City), they used the lessons they learned when one of their restaurants was forced to close in 2011.

“We learned so much from the closing of our restaurant, Mary Queen of Scots,” Brophy told BusinessNewsDaily. “The food must be spot-on from the beginning. The layout and flow of the space needs to work during a high-volume atmosphere. Most importantly, we learned how important it is tocommunicate well amongst the partners. It was such a tough time for all of us, but we made it through and opened Whitehall, which has been a massive success.”

Everyone knows that a successful restaurant needs to serve impeccable food, but there are so many other factors that contribute to the success of your venture. If there’s one thing Bottero wishes she knew when she started out, it’s that creating a loyal following is difficult and takes time, even if your menu is top-notch.

“Customers make the place,” she told BusinessNewsDaily. “You have to earn their trust by making sure they’re taken care of and providing the best service possible. In today’s market, you also can’t succeed without social media. Good food is important, but so is good technology.”

7 Cool & Unique Businesses for Sale

Snyder’s-Lance delivery route – Marietta, Ga.

If you’re looking for a quiet, low-key business opportunity, this is the one for you. Thisfranchise opportunity requires the owner to drive a total of 25 miles per day delivering Snyder’s-Lance products to local retailers near Marietta, Ga. It’s perfect for introverts: All you need to do is load up your truck, turn on the radio, and drive along your route. Another bonus? You’ll never get hungry on the job, since Snyder’s-Lance is known for its snack foods.

Specialty holiday retail store – Shelburne, Vt.

Do you ever wish it could be Christmastime all year round? It can be for the new owner of this 26-year-old retail business. Located on a high-traffic road, the store specializes in holiday merchandise and aims to make its shopping experience a “Disney-like” attraction for customers.

Dorm appliance rental company – New England

College students who want refrigerators and microwaves in their dorm rooms don’t always have the funds to purchase new appliances. This rental company serves several southern New England schools and provides these appliances and other services to students. The new owner of this business has the opportunity to grow by expanding the product offering and network of cooperating schools.

High-end stationery and gift shop – Dallas

The listing for this Texas shop claims that it’s a market leader in the area with loyal customers, strong media contacts and excellent vendor relationships. However, the real opportunity is in taking the business online. You could develop proprietary products and launch an e-commerce and social media marketing campaign to really bring this startup to life.

Spa and aesthetics studio – Alberta, Canada

While a “spa and aesthetics studio” might sound like little more than a glorified nail salon, this hidden gem in Alberta has eight years of experience and a fully trained staff of 13 to provide massages, reflexology and other body treatments to local clientele. The listing says it’s specifically priced for a first-time business owner, and includes nearly $70,000 in inventory and state of the art equipment.

Wine and gourmet food shop – Vermont

Love food and wine? Check out this listing for a gourmet retailer in Vermont. Its unique appeal, said the owner, is that it has an urban country store feel with a cozy, personal shopping experience. After more than two decades in business, the store could use a new owner to bring a fresh perspective and new business development opportunities.

Casino, bar and bowling center – Montana

On a highway in western Montana sits this combination casino, bar and bowling center that has been in business since 1953. Both the casino and bowling facility were recently upgraded to include the latest games and equipment, and security cameras and monitoring systems are already in place for the buyer. As an added perk, the building has an 1,800-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment that the new owner can rent out for more income.

6 Great Business Ideas For Entrepreneurs

Alternative advertising

Companies are always looking for new and interesting ways to advertise, and that creates opportunities for clever entrepreneurs, like the folks behind Star Toilet Paper, which prints clients’ ads on rolls of bathroom tissue.

“Now is the perfect time to start a business focusing on unique advertising because of the push companies are making to reach a captive audience,” said Jordan Silverman, co-founder of Star Toilet Paper. “Guerilla marketing and alternate means of advertising allow [companies] to reach captive audiences in a more cost-efficient and unique manner, making [these services] the perfect niche market for startups and new businesses.”

Businesses for pets

It seems that, not unlike their masters, America’s furry friends are suffering from a bit of a weight problem. The need for weight-management services among pets creates opportunities for savvy business owners. While pampered pets used to drive pet-related businesses, today there’s a new market for pets in need of a little workout.

Ventures like the Tufts’ Veterinary Obesity Clinic, which helps pets lose weight, saw the need and pounced.

E-recycling services

Consumer demand for the newest electronics and latest gadgets has created an opportunity for entrepreneurs like Lee Lowden. Lowden started an e-recycling business that makes the process more accessible to everyday consumers.

Online pawn shops

Pawn shops’ stars are rising, thanks in part to some positive exposure from reality TV. Entrepreneurs see there’s a lot of room in this growing and changing market.

Outsourced human resources solutions

In a down economy, it’s the back office that often gets cut first. Companies that have had to cut back on human resources spending are turning to outside firms to keep things running smoothly.

Scott DiGiammarino took advantage of this opportunity by foundingReel Potential, a company that edits Hollywood movie clips into videos meant to inspire and engage business leaders and employees.

Products for Baby Boomers

As baby boomers age, there is a market for businesses that allow older people to continue enjoying leisure activities in spite of changing physical conditions. A recent New York Times article, for example, noted the increasing popularity of three-wheeled motorcycles among Boomers.

One entrepreneur created a product aimed at helping aging surfers continue to ride the waves.

Your Dream Business Ideas

Starting a business takes, before anything else, a great idea.

Inspiration is everywhere, all around us just waiting to be articulated. Sometimes, that inspiration comes from looking at existing businesses and thinking about how they succeeded where others might have failed. New and aspiring entrepreneurs can learn a lot from other companies, especially those who saw a unique need and filled it with an innovative product or clever service.

If you need some serious inspiration for your business ideas, then check out these stories. They profile companies in industries from food and travel to art and music, and everything in between. You may even find some to be quite out of the box, exactly the way you need to think to create a truly successful company.

For when you’re searching for holiday gifts for your clients and co-workers, shopping for the perfect birthday present for your boss, or just looking for business inspiration, here are five companies with unique business models that can help. From mobile gift cards to personalized sweet treats, these businesses put a whole new spin on gift giving.

Now more than ever, the best food often comes from tiny carts, stands and trucks. These 10 food trucks from around the country are serving up so much more than just mobile meals — entrepreneurs can learn a lot from their creativity and innovation, too.

These companies don’t just give children and young adults something fun to do after school or when school’s out for the summer. They also help them learn valuable skills, develop their creativity, improve their health and further their education in other ways — keeping parents everywhere happy, too.

The legal cannabis industry is rapidly growing as more states adopt both medicinal and recreational cannabis laws. An industry research group projects that cannabis will be worth more than $20 billion in less than 5 years, meaning now is the time to get in on the ground floor of this fledgling business.

Back-to-school season isn’t always easy, but there are plenty of businesses out there that can help make starting a new school year a lot less stressful for students, parents and teachers.

From facilitating new ways to display art in your home or office, to giving artists new mediums to showcase and sell their work, these businesses put the “art” in “startup.”

Whether you’re looking for products or want to start a business that brings it back to basics, you need to check out these inspiring all-natural businesses.

Beyond record labels, major streaming services, equipment retailers and concert venues, there are a lot of ways business and music intersect, and these music businesses are really changing the game.

From virtual-reality sports platforms and game-footage analysis to family-friendly youth sports programs, these six businesses put a whole new spin on sports, helping coaches, athletes and families do what they love. (Read more)

Fortunately for all you vegans out there, more and more stores and brands are dedicated to this animal- and eco-friendly lifestyle, covering everything from food and cosmetics to clothes and accessories.

While many organizations do their part by increasing recycling efforts, sourcing local materials and using energy-efficient equipment, some have taken their eco-friendly efforts to the next level by basing their entire business models on these principles.

Ready to use some of your hard-earned vacation time? Don’t book your flight just yet. Check out these cool travel businesses first to make your next vacation even less stressful — and more memorable!.

From afterlife preparations to unique burial methods and memorials, there are more businesses related to death than you might expect, including these seven totally killer businesses that will probably give you the heebie-jeebies.

Successful businesses all have one thing in common: They solve a problem for their customers. But some problems are less pleasant than others, and some are downright disgusting.

From the weird (bacon-flavored envelopes) to the inspiring (a food truck that gives back to the community), here are seven unique food and beverage businesses you probably didn’t know existed.

These breakup-inspired businesses know what it’s like to get dumped and are taking advantage of it. But don’t worry, unlike your ex, they’re not really taking advantage of you.

Whether they’re making use of a critter’s natural behaviors or pampering your pet to the fullest, these 10 companies have your four-legged friends in mind.

While most companies simply run Halloween-themed promotions during October, these eight startups have built their businesses entirely on the season of spirits.

7 Great Small Business Ideas

Career coaching

Want to help and inspire people for a living? Starting a career coaching practice could be the key to doing what you love and making a difference. Through career coaching you can work with clients of all ages, from young people who don’t know what career path to pursue or how to land their dream job, to older people looking for a career change. Help prep clients for interviews, improve their resumes and find their passions.

Online retailer

You don’t have to be a big-box retailer to start an online store. Whether you sell directly to consumers or use a drop-shipping service, all you need is a website and the right e-commerce software to get started. You can sell your own products or items from niche suppliers. Alternatively, if you’re crafty, you can also sell your own handcrafted creations on Etsy or similar online marketplaces.

Event planner

Do you love throwing parties and organizing meetings? Start an event-planning business and turn your passion into a profitable venture. As an event planner, you can help individuals and corporations plan their need to be resourceful and have a keen eye for detail. You will also need the patience to deal with clients’ demands and the ability to stay calm during stressful situations and unforeseen disasters.

ome-based food services

If you love baking or cooking, consider launching a home-based bakery, personal chef or catering business. You can whip up your concoctions for individuals, events, and local businesses and organizations. Not only is it a rewarding opportunity to make money doing what you love, but it’s also a great way to test your culinary chops before investing in a full-fledged brick-and-mortar establishment. Keep in mind that home-based food businesses are heavily regulated, so start by figuring out the rules and regulations in your area.

Errand service

With most people working long hours and juggling personal responsibilities, there’s a lot that gets left undone in the modern household. There’s a growing demand for errand services (picking up dry cleaning, going grocery shopping, etc.), and it only requires having a car and cell phone. Start small, do a good job and word of mouth will spread quickly.

Computer maintenance

Got a tech background? With the proliferation of tablets, smartphones and laptops for every member of the family, there are lots of opportunities to provide private computer services such as anti-virus software installation, desktop cleanups, software downloads and printer hookups.

Social media consultant

If using social media comes as naturally to you as breathing, you may have a career as a social media consultant. There’s no doubt that social media offers unprecedented marketing opportunities for businesses, but only if they know how to use it. Offer your services to help existing businesses integrate social media into their marketing plans.

7 Business Ideas Poised for Success

 Women’s health platform

Aspiring women entrepreneurs looking to make a difference are now in a better position than ever to launch businesses that help other women. An online store that focuses on women’s health needs, or another platform that connects women with important resources and products, could be a great framework for a successful and meaningful business.

Box subscription services

Box subscription services are popping up everywhere in the food, beauty and even pet product sectors, ready to deliver goods right to your door each month. One of the consumer perks is the idea that these subscription boxes are carefully curated just for them based on their likes and interests, and each month, the boxes’ contents are a surprise.

Find a unique product category that’s still untapped by the box subscription industry, or find a way to put a new spin on an existing service, and you could have a lucrative business on your hands. Keep it as inexpensive as possible — according to LearnVest, offering cheaper products will help you stand out from the competition.

Health clubs for millennials

Health and fitness services are being rebranded to become trendier and more sociable. Opening a health club or gym targeted specifically to millennials could be a great way to capitalize on the fitness trend, especially if you focus on creating a strong, fun and engaging social media presence to really connect with young members and potential customers.

Kid-friendly apps

Kids are your future customers, so gaining their loyalty now isn’t a bad idea. According to Common Sense Media, three-quarters of kids have access to a mobile device. This spells a big business opportunity for anyone who can create products or design apps just for kids. And, if they also happen to be educational or promote good health, you’ll win their parents over, too.

Health care consulting

As an independent healthcare consultant, you can offer management and data analysis for organizations like hospitals, labs and therapist offices to help implement solutions to improve efficiency and save money. If you have a marketing or economics degree, this is a great opportunity to put it to use.

Freelancing

Companies are increasingly turning to freelance and contract workers to fill the skill gaps in their staff. It’s not hard to imagine that you could build a whole company around providing freelance services of one sort or another. Some freelance gigs pay by the project and others pay hourly, and the rates can vary greatly. But as you gain more experience, your earning potential will soar.

Mobile consulting

Mobile tech is now a must-have for almost any business, but finding ways to go mobile is a challenge for many business owners. If you can provide affordable mobile solutions to businesses that need them, you’ll find mobile consulting a rich business opportunity.

According to Jamie Turner, founder of The 60-Second Marketer, there will be an ongoing need for mobile assistance based on the increasing number of consumers with smartphones.

“If you’re in business, it’s your job to be where your prospects are. Your prospects are in mobile right now,” Turner said.

4 Keys to a Successful Sales Pitch

 Sales are the lifeblood of any company: No matter how fantastic your product or service is, if customers or clients are not purchasing it, it might as well not exist. That’s why crafting an effective sales pitch is so critical for business growth.

Bob Circosta, the original host of the Home Shopping Network and television’s “Billion Dollar Man,” knows a lot about what it takes to close a sale. It’s not about giving a rundown of the facts and features of your product — it’s about communicating the ways in which it can help the buyer, he said.

“Stop thinking of it just from the perspective of what you have,” Circosta told Business News Daily. “Think about what it will do for others. You need to take your elevator pitch and transcend it … to other people’s perspective [and] solve their problems.”

Circosta advised approaching sales from a helping perspective. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to make the sale, just focus on what the product means to the buyer, he said.

“If [sales reps] focus on how to communicate effectively and help the person, it takes pressure off themselves, and puts the focus and energy where it needs to be,” Circosta said. “A superior salesperson inspires the buyer to feel the benefits of what they have.”

The first contact with a potential customer or client is crucial to setting the tone for the ongoing relationship. Tom Silk, executive vice president atWorkStride, a provider of employee recognition software, said there is power in the first sentence of the sales pitch. But it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it, he added.

“Use tone, energy — stand up and show enthusiasm,” Silk said. “Energy sets the tone of the conversation.”

Moreover, it’s important to establish a connection with the person you’re selling to, said Brian Stafford, CEO of collaboration software company Diligent Corp.

“Establishing rapport is absolutely critical,” Stafford said. “The best sales rep creates a connection with the prospect as early on as possible.”

Whether in person or on the phone, pay attention to the cues that are happening during the pitch, Stafford said. Pay attention to who is speaking, and if it’s an in-person meeting, note the body language. Look for affirmative cues, such as head nods, forward leaning, and open, relaxed postures. If you are getting the opposite, such as crossed arms or other nonresponses, then take a step back.

“I think sometimes, [sales reps] keep plowing ahead even if they aren’t getting the response they hoped for,” Stafford said. “It can be more dynamic to stop and pump the brakes, ask questions, and force them to say what isn’t working for them.”

It is harder to identify these types of social cues over the phone, but they are there if you listen. Silk advised envisioning what is going on in the room and working through the “noise language.” What is being said, by whom and how? Adjust to the silence, and solicit feedback.

“If the plan is not going well, change and adjust on the fly,” Silk said.

This is perhaps the most important part of the sales pitch: Ask someone to take action at the end of a sales presentation, Circosta said. Even if the prospective buyer isn’t ready to make a final decision yet, leaving them with a clear call to action will at least keep the idea of doing business with you fresh in their mind.

“If you don’t ask them for the sale, they probably won’t go through with it,” he said.

Knowing how and when to follow up on a sales pitch is another factor in its success. It would be nice if every sale were closed at the end of the pitch, but that rarely happens. Decision makers need to take time to evaluate the proposal and ensure what you have to offer is going to fix their problem or improve their capabilities.

WorkStride creates a project plan with its potential clients, defining the milestones for follow-up and the best method to do so.

“The whole purpose of the project plan is to let us know when to follow up,” Silk said. “No ‘checking in’ annoying calls. We can make the follow-up calls with a purpose — after a key meeting of decision makers or at the appropriate time in their budget cycle.”

Diligent Corp. employs a similar strategy: “Follow up, and make yourself be a champion of your key contact in the sales process,” Stafford said. “Problem solve with them. What are the things we need to do to get them over the line?”

Above all else, Stafford said the most important thing you can do throughout the entire sales process is to listen to your prospective client.

“Ask questions and listen,” he said. “Figure out what a potential client wants in a product, and then tailor your response to meet it.”

Tips to Create an Effective Marketing Plan

 Most small business owners know the importance of a business plan, which outlines your company’s course for success. One crucial element of that plan is your marketing strategy.

Because this strategy is buried in the larger business plan, many small business owners may not give marketing the time, research and attention it deserves, assuming that they know their customer base and how to reach them. But an in-depth and detailed approach to laying out your marketing strategy can reveal opportunities from a new audience or potential product line, pitfalls in pricing, competition reaction, and potential reach.

At its most basic, a marketing plan describes who your customers are, where they get information and how you are going to reach them. Robert J. Thomas, a marketing professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, said the development of a marketing plan requires that you complete four specific tasks:

1. Develop a very clear and focused insight into why a potential customer would use your business. More specifically, figure out the core need that your product or service will meet. Is it to help your customers get through the day more easily? Do their job more efficiently? Be respected and admired by friends? Your offering should be designed to solve client problems or meet customer needs better than the competition can.

2. Identify your target customers. There are numerous potential customers in most markets, but to succeed faster and better, a small business must study the market and determine the characteristics of its best target customers. The target customer should be described in detail. Create an avatar, or fictional person, who has all of your target-customer attributes, and examine what that person would say, do, feel and think in the course of a day.

3. Identify competitors that would also want your target customers. No matter how original your product or service may be, there is always competition for your target customer’s dollar. Small businesses seldom take the time to study their competitors in depth, or determine competition that may be outside their industry but just as capable of luring the customer away. Preparing to know who that is, what their core competitive advantage is and how they will respond to your offering (price cuts, increased communication, etc.) will help you figure out strategies to combat such losses.

4. Write down your brand-positioning statement for your target customers. Ultimately, your brand and what it symbolizes for customers will be your strongest competitive advantage. You should be able to write down a simple declarative sentence of how you will meet customer needs and beat the competition. The best positioning statements are those that are single-minded and focus on solving a problem for the customer in a way that promotes the best value.

Now that you know the elements of the plan, you need to figure out how you are going to reach that target customer. Aside from traditional print and broadcast media, here are three tech-driven marketing channels that many of today’s business owners utilize.

Social media has become an essential part of businesses’ marketing plans because every type of customer is on some type of platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and other networks. Small business owners can feel overwhelmed at the possibilities but should focus on the ones that can benefit them the most.

Brett Farmiloe, founder of internet marketing company Markitors, advised companies that are just getting started in social media to get to know their customers and what platforms they are using.

“Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms,” Farmiloe told Business News Daily. “Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms. While all three steps are key, the biggest one is really determining if your customers are on these platforms.”

Though email marketing may not be a new concept like social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for many small business owners. Companies can implement email-marketing techniques in a number of ways, including using newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. Companies such as MailChimp and Constant Contact make it easy for companies to manage their email campaigns.

Farmiloe noted that companies can set their email marketing efforts apart by segmenting their markets.

“Not all subscribers want to receive the same blast,” Farmiloe said. “Smart email marketers take the time to segment subscribers at the outset, and then continue to segment based on subscriber activity. Through segmentation, companies reduce the amount of unsubscribes, increase open rates and, most importantly, increase the amount of actions taken from an email send.”